Last month, I wrote an open letter to William E. Todd, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia. In that letter, I suggested that he ban U.S. embassy personnel from patronizing Cambodia’s hostess bars. Partly because it’s wrong for them to frequent such bars, and partly because I want to “have more of those gloriously slutty 19 year-old women all to myself.”
In the ensuing discussion, some readers took umbrage at my proposed ban. Others dismissed my suggestion as satire or sarcasm, the idiotic ramblings of a court jester.
In today’s poll, I pose the question to our readers — should Western embassy personnel based in Cambodia hang out in hostess bars? Now, as an American, I am primarily concerned with the activities of American embassy personnel, who represent my country and who are subsidized by my tax dollars. I don’t care much about what other countries’ embassy personnel do. If other diplomats want to drink, grope bargirls, and force themselves on hotel maids in their spare time, fine with me. I expect that from the French.
Anyway, here are the three reasons why I personally believe that U.S. embassy personnel should never patronize hostess bars.
1. Because it looks bad
Let us agree that Cambodian hostess bars are places of prostitution. They are staffed by women who are generally available for paid sex. Not all of the women, not always available, but generally. These bars are frequented by customers who can pay the bar owner for the privilege of taking these women away from the bar, often for sexual encounters.
The presence of embassy employees in such bars suggests that they may be engaging in prostitution in their host country. That’s kind of a diplomatic no-no. Of course, some folks may argue: “Not every customer who drinks in a hostess bar hires a girl for sex. So if the embassy dudes are just drinking in there, there’s really no harm.” I disagree.
Imagine if a respectable British diplomat living in New York spent his free time hanging out in notorious crack houses in the South Bronx. And when his boss confronted him about those crack house visits, he responded, “Oh, not to worry, Nigel. I don’t smoke crack. I just go there for that catchy American Negro music.”
U.S. embassy personnel are subject to detailed protocols governing their behavior in their host countries, both inside and outside of the embassy. They enjoy 24/7 diplomatic immunity, 24/7 security assistance, and 24/7 emergency medical care. They are never completely “off duty.”
Walt Disney World famously trains its costumed cast members to be “in character” not just when they are “on stage,” but whenever they are in any part of the theme park where a guest could see them. Disney even put different colored cement in the “back stage” areas of the park, alerting cast members when they are standing in a place where they might inadvertently be seen by guests. That way, no child is ever traumatized by looking off to the side of a stage and seeing Mickey Mouse taking his head off.
To me, seeing U.S. embassy employees romping about in hostess bars is like seeing Mickey Mouse taking his head off. It’s unsettling, and it saps any confidence that I may have in the embassy’s overall work. It’s a bit like seeing your financial manager playing craps in the high limit room at Caesars Palace. Or seeing your wife’s gynecologist sitting right up front by the stage at your local all-nude strip club. It’s unnerving.
I guess I expect U.S. embassy personnel to be “in character” and to behave with dignity and decorum wherever I may publicly encounter them in their host countries. That’s not a lot to ask; it’s no more than what Disney expects from the guy in the f*cking Pluto costume. If the Phnom Penh embassy guys really want to cut loose and blow off a little steam, let them hop on a flight to Bangkok and play grab ass in the girlie bars there. I can even recommend a few good ones.
2. Because it’s hypocritical and undermines U.S. embassy objectives in Cambodia
Another reason why embassy personnel shouldn’t drink in hostess bars is that every dollar spent there goes into the pockets of bar owning pimps, who can then use the proceeds to expand their operations, hire more “staff,” or even buy more bars. We all know that Cambodians are at their best when they are: (a) staring or (b) copying someone else’s idea. If they see a white guy spend a dollar in a hostess bar, they open three more hostess bars.
For Westerners, hostess bars are like a “gateway drug” to Cambodia’s somewhat nefarious commercial sex scene. A seemingly respectable Western man might dip his toe into the sleazy muck by patronizing a hostess bar and having “harmless” fun with the women he meets there. The bars are fun, the girls are willing, everybody’s doing it. But once he becomes conditioned to paying for sex with local women, he may plunge deeper into the filth. Then one day he gets arrested in a stinky brothel shack while violating a retarded Vietnamese woman who is drugged and chained to the bed.
The U.S. government, and most reasonable Americans, are opposed to third world sex trafficking. It is the U.S. government’s stated position that curbing the overall demand for prostitution helps to fight sex trafficking. I know this because the State Department recently published a preachy missive titled “Prevention: Fighting Sex Trafficking by Curbing Demand for Prostitution.”
In that delightfully prudish publication, the State Department urges all employers and governments to show “moral leadership” in “sending the clear message that buying sex is wrong.” They implore governments to “lead by example by implementing zero tolerance policies for employees, uniformed servicemembers and contractors paying for sex.” They explain that “Business leaders need to cultivate a corporate culture that leaves behind outdated thinking that turns a blind eye to the sex trade.” In short, they lay it on pretty fucking thick.
How can the State Department urge lesser governments to “send the clear message that buying sex is wrong,” if U.S. embassy personnel are simultaneously spending their time and money in seedy bars where local impoverished women are routinely bought and sold for sex every night? Isn’t that the same “turning a blind eye to commerical sex” that the State Department rails against? Whether or not the embassy guys are actually paying for sex in these bars is not the point. The mere presence of U.S. embassy employees blowing their taxpayer-paid wages in a place called “Pussycat Bar” totally undermines our country’s objectives.
“But Gavinmac, how can you argue all this, when you admit to patronizing hostess bars yourself?”
My answer is simple. I am not the U.S. government. I do not have strong ideals, and I have no moral compass or noble mission in Cambodia. I’m a private American citizen, a rather weak and pathetic half-man. That is why I patronize hostess bars. But perhaps if my own government set a stronger example in this area, I would consider following it. As long as I can still go to Zapata.
photo courtesy of Stickman Bangkok
3. Because embassy dudes present unfair competition to other hostess bar customers
One of the things I have always liked about Cambodian hostess bars is that most of the other customers are fat, cheap, disgusting old men. Especially the Belgians.
Now I’m no Ralph Macchio, but compared to these other customers, I am young, thin, polite, and not horrible looking. The hostesses therefore tend to show interest in me, especially when I outspend the fat old geezers. I have also learned to string a few words together in Khmer, and I usually make the effort to wear a clean shirt. Which I assume makes me totally irresistible to all the girls.
But once you drop a few sharply dressed, educated embassy guys into the hostess bars, I start to look far less desirable. One night about five years ago, I was sitting in Rose Bar, basking in the bargirls’ usual attention. All of a sudden there was a vacuum effect of bargirls being sucked to the other end of the bar. I looked down to that end of the bar, and I saw a shockingly normal-looking white guy there holding court with almost all the bargirls who had previously been surrounding me. He was chattering on in fluent Khmer, and the girls were hanging on his every word. The one token girl who was still sitting with me looked at him longingly and told me, “He work at American embassy. He can speak Khmer so much.”
F*ck that. The guy was my age, well dressed, better looking than me, and he had intensive Jason Bourne-type Khmer language training. I can’t compete with that. And unlike most of the degenerate Western losers in Phnom Penh, the embassy bastards even have money in their pockets to spend in the hostess bars. Money! That’s the worst part.
Did you know that American embassy personnel actually receive extra “hardship pay” for serving in Cambodia? What’s the hardship in being a Western guy living in Phnom Penh making over $40,000 per year, with fully paid housing, visiting hostess bars whenever you want? It’s ridiculous. I say ban them from hostess bars and make them drink in Paddy Rice every night. That’s a real hardship.
Anyway, you probably know how I’m voting in this poll. Please feel free to cast your own vote and leave a comment.